l to r: Suzuki, Sakurai, Noto, Ueda, Maeno
Interview with the cast of the upcoming autumn anime Neto-juu no Susume. It’s been a pretty good year for Noto Mamiko and here’s hoping she rounds off 2017 with a juicy role in the form of Moriko, a potential hero(ine) for us 30-somethings in dead-end jobs. Looks good on paper!
Noto Mamiko – Morioka Moriko
Sakurai Takahiro – Sakurai Yuta
Suzuki Ryota – Hayashi
Ueda Reina – Lily
Maeno Tomoaki – Koiwai Homare
An anime that depicts the exquisite intertwining of Real Life x Online Gaming & human drama that is both delightful and tender
Q: What were your impressions of the series when you first read it?
Noto: The way the series balanced the world of online gaming against the reality of life was pretty exquisite, I thought. I enjoyed reading the [web] manga…and I became eager to see how this series would be adapted into an anime.
Sakurai: I had previously played one of those so-called premier online games, but that was during a period when games still felt like ‘games’. For this series, the characters within the game’s lives are written with quite a bit of depth to them. They are wearing masks, not revealing their identities; living a life apart from their real lives, placing their ideals and dreams within. It was interesting to see how all of that connected with the human drama aspects.
Suzuki: When I heard about the online game setting I’d thought that the plot progression would revolve around the world of online gaming, but it turned out that there weren’t many battle or adventure scenes. It was fresh and interesting to see that there was a greater focus on depicting the real-life aspects [of the series].
Ueda: I’ve never played online games myself so I didn’t understand the terminology at all but as Lily methodically explains them in the show, I was able to enjoy [the series] with the same feelings (as a beginner like) Hayashi has. My allies within the online game are all very nice people; that helped fill me with a sense of compassion and this has now become a favourite series of mine.
Maeno: The bonds nurtured through online gaming could be very important, but what if those bonds were carried through to real life?…that is what this series is all about, and I personally thought that it’s an interesting series. After reading the original manga, I felt like immersing myself in the world of MMOs once again.
Sakurai: Maeno-kun’s words carry a different kind of weight compared to the rest of ours.
Noto: Just what you’d expect from someone experienced!
Suzuki: I see.
Ueda: That’s amazing!
Maeno: No no, it’s not like that! (laughs)
In-game avatar Hayashi is a good-looking guy injected with Moriko’s personality
Q: Now let’s talk about your impressions of each of your own characters.
Noto: Moriko is a 30-year old who’s quit the company that she was working for and is now a NEET venturing into the world of online games. I wondered how far this anime would go in depicting the stark reality of a 30-year old so I was looking for that balance right from the start. I’ve said that recording sessions feel like a ‘tracksuit-wearing’ kind of mood (laughs), but I thought it would be interesting to infuse the liveliness of Moriko when she’s in public into the Moriko who spends her days in a tracksuit; it was something I kept in mind throughout my performance.
Sakurai: With Sakurai, what you see is what you get – he looks serious, is kind and refreshing, yet plays online games as his hobby. There, he has an unexpected meeting with Moriko.
Noto: It was a dramatic encounter; one that could conceivably happen in real life too, is it not?
Sakurai: That’s right. To see how he connects with Moriko – that’s something you can look forward to in this series.
Suzuki: Hayashi’s described as the coolest in-game character that Moriko’s ever created so I did feel a bit of pressure, thinking ‘Ah, I have to play this good-looking guy…’. But his name is ordinary (laughs) so thanks to that I’ve been able to voice him with a sense of familiarity. However I need to keep in mind that I’m voicing a real-life woman masquerading as a male character online; I may be playing Hayashi on the one hand, but I also have to work to incorporate Moriko’s traits into my acting.
Maeda: Lily, like Hayashi-kun, is a character in an online game. She extends a hand to the troubled Hayashi, taking time to explain the in-game mechanisms to him; she’s very kind and what’s more, is really cute! She’s the perfect girl and I’d love to be friends with such a girl if she existed in real life. But she’s someone you can rely on plus you can catch a glimpse of how tenacious she can be at times – she’s not just a cute girl, but has other charming sides to her.
Maeno: Koiwai is Sakurai’s workplace senior; an ‘older brother’ kind of character. He’s supposed to be the comic relief guy so he’s got good communication skills and plays the role of the mood-maker, livening up situations. At first, I’d come up with my own plans when deciding how to approach the role as recording drew nearer, but I was told by the sound director to ‘just do whatever’ (laughs). I didn’t spend too much time thinking about it after that – instead of purposely setting out to create something; I’d decide what to do with my performance by going with the flow and the mood.
The cast’s favourable impression of Moriko: ‘A Wonderful Lady’
Q: To everyone else apart from Noto-san – what do you think of the heroine Moriko?
Noto: My heart’s beating faster.
Maeno: I think she’s a really wonderful lady. I’m not saying this in a bad way but…
Noto: It’s okay, you can be honest.
Maeno: It’s like she sees herself at the bottom of the social pyramid, when it’s not like that at all.
Sakurai: It could be Noto-san’s powers at work there.
Maeno: Even her outward appearance is immaculate.
Noto: But I think she’s just a dried fish woman*….
* himono-onna (干物女) – dried fish woman, a girl in her 20s or older who has given up on life, love etc
Sakurai: She does harbour some guilt, thinking that ‘I can’t remain the way I am’.
Maeno: But she’s stuck in her comfort zone, which she’s enjoying and has no desire to get out of.
Sakurai: I can understand her feelings so I have plenty of goodwill towards her.
Maeno: It’s much better than a woman who puts on strange airs, isn’t it?
The view of Moriko from a woman’s/teenage boy’s perspective
Q: So from the viewpoint of adult men, she holds a favourable impression. What about for teenagers like Suzuki-san?
Suzuki: She gives her all even when she’s playing online games, so I’m sure she works hard at her job – it must’ve been tough for her. I love that. Adult women.
Sakurai: (You love) adult women?
Q: So how about for someone of the same sex – Ueda-san, how do you see Moriko?
Ueda: She’s a great person; honest, hardworking, someone who would make you happy to be with. I’d like to be friends with her.
Sakurai: She doesn’t do things sloppily – she goes about her affairs so energetically that it seems like a reflex for her; even though she lives a little too loosely, she never allows herself to descend into hopelessness.
Ueda: She doesn’t let herself rot, does she?
Sakurai: It’s kind of like she’s standing at the precipice. It’d be interesting to run into her in a convenience store, I’d think.
Noto: I see. She’s a serious person, and a hard worker. But she tries too hard and gets exhausted, so I can understand and sympathize with her feelings of wanting to live her life doing what she loves.
If the Netoge cast members were to create their own online game avatars?
Q: Moriko uses a male avatar as her online game character – if you were to use an avatar character on the net, what kind of personality and appearance would it have?
Sakurai: I’d create a macho female gorilla character. Like an Amazonian.
Noto: Not male but female?
Sakurai: I prefer to go down the funny route.
Ueda: How ‘bout its way of talking?
Sakurai: It’d probably say ‘Ore’*, something like that. During the early days of RPGs, you were limited to 4 letters for the characters’ names and it took me 2-3 days just to come up with a single name… I think I’d be able to play with freedom if I chose a character of the opposite sex. I can imagine though, that once I leveled up to a certain point I’d start to have regrets about not choosing my character properly (laughs).
* Ore (オレ), a very informal way of saying “I”, usually used by males.
Suzuki: I think I’d go for a mature, Mine Fujiko-like character.
Sakurai: Because you like adult women?
Suzuki: Maybe so.
Maeno: I’d create a character with a similar body shape as myself but make the face as good-looking as possible. Then I’d make a second character, most likely a female.
Maeno: I’m quite particular about how the character looks like from behind; things like their hairstyle and so on. After all, you’re mostly looking at the backs of the characters when you’re in-game. I think all net gamers have that way of thinking.
Sakurai: As expected of someone who speed-runs through games, amazing!
Noto: I’d create a character like Hayashi-kun. Someone of the opposite sex, good-looking, someone you’d revere, thinking ‘He’s so cool!’ when you look at him. Someone I could admire (laughs).
Ueda: I’d choose a cute girl. Cute girls are a feast for the eyes; I love them. It seems like fun getting to dress them up as well. I’d also like to create a mascot character like Pokotaro-san (a guild ally character in Netoju); someone who keeps the peace and is kind – I want to be likable (laughs).
Suzuki-san, a high-school student at the start of recording, touched by Noto-san’s kindness
Q: What is the atmosphere like during recording?
Maeno: There are about 10 or so people during every recording.
Sakurai: The male to female cast member ratio is about 6:4.
Noto: It’s more or less a fixed cast and the atmosphere is good.
Suzuki: This is my first series featuring as a regular so I was really anxious during the recordings for episode 1 but Noto-san was truly kind… That left me feeling buoyant and cheerful, and I was able to make it through recording without any further nerves.
Noto: No no. You were in your school uniform so that [recording] was before you had graduated. You looked dazzling then.
Suzuki: Thank you very much.
Sakurai: I’m gonna sound like a broken record here, but hey – you like mature women, right?
Suzuki: That may be so (laughs)
Ueda: You’ve already graduated now, haven’t you?
Suzuki: Thankfully, I was able to graduate without any problems. As I continue growing, I hope that I too, can become someone who is able to teach their juniors with kindness.
Ueda: Do your best.
What stories does Ueda-san have about the male cast members that left a deep impression?
Q: Who’s the mood-maker during recordings?
Noto: That would be Nakamura [Yuichi]-kun.
Sakurai: Maeno’s one too, isn’t he?
Maeno: Nah, it’s Sakurai-san and Nakamura-san who are livening things up.
Sakurai: I’m paying attention to Maeno-kun’s speech and behaviour every week. ‘Cos the way you approach whatever topic is at hand, it’s really interesting.
Maeno: Thank you very much. But it’s only because Nakamura-san brings up a variety of subject matters that anyone can get in on the conversations and expand them – it’s that kind of mood.
Sakurai: We also have Ueda-san who’s always eating rice balls.
Maeno: She makes the rice ball snacks we’re given look so tasty.
Ueda: You guys were watching? (laughs). I do recall us getting all excited about the prize draw on the packaging of Chocolate Bat snacks*. We kept getting ‘outs’ – not even a single ‘hit’, let alone a ‘homerun’.
*a chocolate stick snack that has a prize draw on the inside of the wrapper – for ice-creams like Gari-gari kun, atari (あたり) gets you another stick and hazure (はずれ) leaves you with nothing. In the case of Chocolate Bat you get 1 of 3 wrappers – homerun (ホームラン), hit (ヒット) or out (アウト). 1 ‘homerun’ wrapper gets you 1 extra Chocolate Bat, you need 4 ‘hits’ to exchange for 1 Chocolate Bat, and ‘out’ gets you nothing.
Sakurai: [One of] the production team members bought a box. I think it was around Valentine’s Day?
Ueda: That’s right! We’d been giving them the leftover rice balls so they gave a box to me saying, ‘Take this’ and I was really touched, thinking ‘How kind of [them]!!’
Sakurai: ‘Cause the old geezers’ stomachs are full (laughs)
Maeno: The tempo of recordings is nice, and quick as well.
Sakurai: I was directed to ‘not be bound by scale; emphasize tempo, mood and feelings in your performance’ so I was able to act freely. I think it’s interesting to see how right from the beginning, the parallel stories of real life and life online are being developed.
Would you like to meet players you get along well with in online games, offline?
Q: When playing online games, do you ever feel like getting to know people you’re friendly with in-game, in real life?
Maeno: I would. If we got friendly I’d definitely be curious about them – I’m the type who’s proactive in exchanging contact information. I’ve actually been to offline gatherings and met a bunch of people before. Of course, that’s out of the question now (laughs).
Noto: I’d like to meet them too. I would love to, especially if I got along well with them.
Sakurai: I think I’d keep that type of relationship limited to that [game]. I do think that it largely depends on what kind of game is involved but if it’s something like [the one in Netoju no Susume] then I’d keep it in-game. ‘Cos I’m likely to create different personas for myself depending on the game I’m playing.
Maeno: It’s true that it’s largely reliant on one’s playing style. People who like to play as the opposite gender would find it tough to meet others in real life. That’s totally in tune with what Moriko herself is feeling.
Noto: That’s right. It might be different in such cases.
Maeno: You’re probably better off not meeting up with people who have a different playing style.
Sakurai: You might get along so well with someone that you wish to meet them. Even so, I wouldn’t go beyond the game.
Ueda: I’d like to, but I probably wouldn’t be able to get the words out. I’m turning into a bit of a coward. What if the other party got disillusioned, like ‘this person’s totally different from their character!’ – such thoughts would be at the back of my mind, and I’d rather maintain the relationship as it is.
Maeno: But you’d be curious about what kind of person they are, wouldn’t you?
Ueda: I would…
Maeno: As a human being you would, wouldn’t you?
Sakurai: Somehow this is getting pretty intense (laughs)
Ueda: If they come at me aggressively I might give in and meet them. I’m weak against assertiveness (laughs). But for the request to come from myself…that’s too high of a hurdle for me.
Suzuki: I’m not sure if I’d ever get into a game so much that I’d reach a point where I’m friendly with other players. I’m the type who only casually plays to relax so I doubt I’d get to that stage.
Q: What if the character was an older woman?
Suzuki: Then I might willingly go along with her.
Sakurai: This guy’s easy (laughs)
“ I want Hayashi and Lily to achieve great things in Fruits de Mer” (Maeno Tomoaki)
Q: Please tell us about any hopes or expectations you might have regarding the series’ scenarios – what would you like to see happen?
Maeno: I want characters such as Hayashi and Lily from the Fruits de Mer title that Moriko + co are playing, to achieve great things within the game. Clearing dungeons that nobody else has managed to – I’m looking forward to that kind of play that creates history in the game. It’d be an amazing trophy to add to my collection. I’ve had that kind of experience before!
Sakurai: That would be putting the focus solely on Fruits de Mer.
Maeno: But if there was such a story arc, Koiwai wouldn’t be part of it (laughs)
Suzuki: I’m curious about Moriko’s working life. I wonder just how hard she was going at it. As an adult woman.
Sakurai: Ah, he finally said it himself (laughs)
Suzuki: I think it’s time for me to make my stand.
Noto: This is not just referring to Moriko, but also Sakurai, Koiwai and Fujimoto – I’d like to see more about their daily lives, it’d be interesting.
Sakurai: Sakurai seems like he’d be living quite the good life.
Noto: We always seem to end with a sexy shot of him.
Sakurai: I’m always thinking, ‘why is there a sexy scene for him’ (laughs). But I think Maeno-kun’s idea is pretty good. Put the spotlight on Fruits de Mer and just chase the game itself. With the kind of momentum that makes you think that you might as well just create a game yourself. Since I love games myself, I can do stuff like gathering rare items and not bother to clear the game, or just levelling up, indefinitely. I don’t want to struggle against the last boss.
Noto: That seems interesting. Please consider these suggestions (laughs)
A series that can be enjoyed both by those with online gaming experience & those without. Be moved by how the two worlds connect!
Q: Last of all, please tell us about the highlights of the series and do share your enthusiasm leading up to its airing as well as any messages you may have.
Maeno: This will be a series where it’ll gradually become apparent that the bonds formed within online games can connect to the real world in unexpected ways. People who have played online games before will surely find this series fun, while those who haven’t will still be able to enjoy the uniqueness of, and the relationships between the characters. Going through recording reminds me of the [gaming] days when I’d go berserk (laughs) – I have a lot of fun every week. I hope the fun atmosphere we have in the studio will be evident as you watch the show when it airs – I’d be happy if you could tune in.
Ueda: The stories of the 2 worlds are developed separately; as the plot progresses you will discover and be impressed by how one connects to the other – I hope that you will watch this series from beginning to end. There is a sense of purity running throughout the series, a gentle story, filling me with pure feelings. Whether or not you have experience with online games, feel free to take a look at this series and be enveloped with purity.
Suzuki: The anime’s setting may be an online game but it’s not like they go on endless adventuring – instead, you’ll get to see interactions and conversations between the characters, complete with comedic touches and heart-warming parts – you can just watch it without getting stressed out. You could be like Moriko, watching it while rolling around in your tracksuit (laughs). You can put yourself in her shoes, watching what happens to Moriko who is a real-life NEET and observe the changes in her state of mind. And do please pay attention to how cool Hayashi is and how elements of Moriko’s personality are injected into his character (laughs).
Sakurai: Online games are like – first, you jump in thinking that you just wanna have fun but then you’ll discover that it’s not only the in-game characters, but also the people behind them who are manipulating things. When you’re communicating with other players [online], you might go through unexpected happenings as well as form friendships born from those experiences – you will learn about the depth of online gaming through watching this series.
Maeno: Thank you.
Sakurai: The relationship between the two [protagonists] will bring a smile to your face and it actually makes me envious to think of the existence of such a senior-junior relationship. These human relations are, I think, one of the highlights of this series.
Noto: Each of the characters, be they in-game or their real-life counterparts, have parts that you can relate to, and they’re all good people. That’s why I feel a sense of familiarity [with the characters], wondering ‘does such a person exist?’ and thinking ‘It’d be nice if they did’, and being soothed or cheered up by the characters’ actions and impressions. I do believe that every single character in this series is truly charming. Some people may hear that the show is about online gaming and think that that’s a bar set too high for them but I want to assure you that it’s okay even if you have zero knowledge of online games. Since I don’t have any either (laughs). You can enjoy it just as if you are watching a TV drama – who knows, you may feel like trying out online games after watching this series.
Q: Anyone can relate to Moriko.
Ueda: I don’t think that there are many nice people like her around…rather than being able to relate to her, I would say I admire her. I want to be someone like her.
Maeno: 30 years old and unemployed? (laughs)
Ueda: That would be a bit tough, yes (laughs).
Noto: But I do think that people will be able to relate, regardless of whether they’re male or female. Someone out there who’s giving their best at work or at school might be seeking some form of peace. For Moriko, she found it in ‘online gaming’.
Sakurai: Finding your ideals or feeling joy at being needed, things like that. I would personally like to recommend Noto-san’s ‘dried fish woman’ voice, [the one she uses] when she’s wearing her tracksuit. Please look forward to it!
Noto: If you find pleasure in something like that, by all means (laughs). I’d be grateful if you could enjoy this series, warmly watching over these characters doing their best to live in-game and in real life.